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Keiser's Role: A column by Trevor Keiser

School board flunks Transparency 101

April 09, 2014 - "Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct." ~ Thomas Jefferson

If the Oxford Board of Education were sitting in my classroom and I graded them on transparency, I would have to fail them.

The April 1 school board meeting is a perfect example of the "lack thereof." This was the meeting that has been highly publicized where school board members were going to talk about central office administration contracts, which included a possible extention of Supertintendent Dr. William Skilling's contract to 2019. A topic that has been highly debated because four seats are up for election in November and some feel that a decision of this magnitude should be voted on by the the new board, which I strongly agree with.

Not only did my "sniff test" start smelling a little ripe when the board started changing meeting dates all around, but it got a little got more stinky when I found out they planned a special meeting at 5 p.m. (how nice, since most people don't get off work until 5 p.m.) According to the special meeting agenda that I printed off the school's website, "Central Office Administrators Contracts" was number 5 on the discussion list. However, when I showed up for said meeting. I was handed a new agenda and told the board was going into closed session "to consider the purchase or lease of real property..." No where on the new special meeting agenda or the regular meeting agenda (which was for 6:30 p.m.) was there any mention of contracts.

So I went to the room where the regular meeting was going to be held and waited for the board to come out of its closed session. The board arrived to the regular meeting about 15 minutes late and Board President Colleen Schultz requested to add a motion "to approve central office administrators contracts as amended" under Board of Education matters.

When they finally "discussed" the topic and voted 6-0 to approve the contracts and Skilling's extension, it became very apparent that a conversation by board members about contracts took place somewhere else behind closed doors. In an interview I had with a few board members on April 4 I was told "they discussed the contracts a lot." Well, apparently they didn't want anyone to hear the debate of the pros and cons of the contracts they were approving, because if they wanted to be transparent, they would would have had those discussions in an open public meeting with members of the press, the community television station and members of the public there to listen as board members gave their thoughts. I have witnessed other school boards and governing bodies do this.

Will the contracts be made available to the public. Yes, I am sure through some hunting and searching you can find them on the school website somewhere (whenever they decide to post them). But will the public ever know the conversation that led to the perfect vote? Probably not and that's a shame.

For Oxford Schools, transparency is just another buzz word, but true transparency requires action before a public whom you are accountable to. I am sorry board members but you failed the test. I wish you better luck next time.

Until then, what lesson does this teach our students?

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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